I thought I'd spend a few minutes today giving you a quick review of what worked from my Great Freezer Food Experiment. I mentioned in my weekly menu post that I felt great relief at having dinner in the freezer each day during my recovery. I can't say enough about that. If you are expecting a baby or planning for a time when you may be "indisposed" to cooking, plan ahead and freeze some meals. The time it took to prepare the meal for freezing was less than if I had started and finished it -- because the cook time was absent. And the time for cooking it after it was frozen was effort-free. I just popped the food in the oven and waited for the smells -- the best part.
While I have just a few meals left to eat, I will tell you what was a success -- almost everything.
Deborah's Bechamel Lasagna and Shepherd Pie were wonderful. I did not change a thing, except for the freezing part, and these recipes are definitely ones I will make again. I thawed both almost all the way before baking because I was afraid they would have to bake for hours starting frozen. So, I popped them in the fridge the night before, slipped the foil and plastic wrap off in the morning, and put the food in the original freezing dish to thaw completely (remember that trick? scroll down to the bottom). Then I baked. I don't think there was any flavor or texture loss -- even in the mashed potatoes. Both dishes were well-received by my family as well. The boys noticed the celery in the lasagna and started fussing, but after one bite I noticed that they were eating it. Peach ate three servings and leftovers the next day. They also fussed a bit about the peas in the shepherd pie and two of the boys pushed them aside as they ate. But the entire dish was empty by the end of dinner. Both will be regular dishes here from now on. (Thanks, Deborah!).
Two of my freezer experiments, mashed potatoes and cooked rice, also turned out great. These were true experiments because I had no idea how they would come out. I made a huge batch of both mashed potatoes and rice (quadrupled what I normally make). I realize that rice is really not tough to throw together for dinner, but I was not certain what shape I'd be in and wanted it to be easy enough for Doug or the kids to manage. So I made one big batch of each, cooled them, portioned them out -- a dinner's worth in each of my freezer bags, pushed all the air out and froze it flat ( I smashed the potatoes and rice down so it would be evenly distributed in all corners of the bags). For the rice -- I thawed it overnight in the fridge and just heated to hot in the microwave. For the potatoes, which got a little watery, I thawed them overnight in the fridge, then dumped them in an oven-safe dish and baked them at 350 degrees until they were hot. A little pat of butter on top didn't hurt.
My baked goods were all good -- that's a pretty safe thing. The Pumpkin Streusel Muffins are always a big hit in my house, and Matilda's Lemon Zucchini Muffins were really good with dinner one night, too. The kids really enjoyed having the Classic Crumb Coffee Cake and Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread on nights when dessert was absent, too. The key to freezing baked goods is to wrap them in plastic wrap and then pop them into a freezer bag. You can eat them right out of the bag (after they thaw, of course) or heat them briefly in the oven. My French bread loaves turned out well, too. I wrapped the cooled baked bread in wax paper first, then aluminum foil. Then, after thawing, I popped them into a 400 degree oven for five minutes and they were just like fresh baked bread. I'll be sure to double my bread recipe from now on and freeze a loaf.
My favorite experiments, though, were the Crock Pot meals. Matilda suggested prepping the meals, them putting all the contents in a freezer bag. Then, on cooking day (or actually the day before), thaw the meal in the fridge and dump the contents into the Crock Pot. To steal a phrase from Rachael Ray, "How cool is that?" These were so very easy and the meal tasted like I had started it that morning. It took less than an hour one Sunday to prep three Crock Pot meals (Hearty Beef Stew, Continental Beef, and Italian Beef), and it took no time at all to dump the meal into the Crock Pot and turn it on. This is a great technique for when you find a great deal on a specific cut of meat -- just buy a lot and make freezer meals.
The one disappointment in my freezer meal experiment was biscuits. I made several dozen Buttermilk Biscuits and froze them to bake when needed. I had read that you can freeze them unbaked and then bake the biscuits right out of the freezer. Well, maybe another recipe would work, but my regular Buttermilk Biscuit recipe did not. They tasted fine, but they didn't rise much. So they were crisp on the outside, but kind of soggy on the inside. If you have a great trick for freezing biscuits -- please clue me in. I'd like to try again.
All in all, I'm a convert to the freezer meal business. I'm going to think a lot more about doubling our favorite meals and packing them away for a rainy day. I just don't think you can go wrong by doing it.